In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ELT 36 : 2 1993 reviewer must acknowledge a debt of gratitude for Tintner's elegant solution of a problem that has teased him for several decades. In the sixth chapter of James's tale, there is a reference to the children's geography lessons and to "the Sea of Azof." It is an unexpected detail (and perhaps an unlikely element in the curriculum), and while one has a strong sense that it cannot be merely gratuitous its significance has not been clear. Now the mystery has been solved, for it emerges not only that a similar reference occurs in Barrès's novel, with the same spelling of the foreign name, but that James is known to have been reading Barrès's novel "with absorption" at the time he was at work on his story. In a closely worked out argument, Tintner shows that Edmund Gosse not only observed that Barrès's novel "supplied James with an endless subject of talk and reflection" but referred to it as a "rather 'gruesome' book," the epithet being presumably James's in conversation and duly reappearing in James's well-known account of the origins of The Turn of the Screw in "a small and gruesome spectral story" told to him by Archbishop Benson. The whole discussion is characteristic of the book in its responsible source-hunting and scrupulous use of evidence. It is a book from which even seasoned students of James are likely to learn much that is new, and the interest and liveliness of the text are enhanced by 34 well-chosen illustrations. Norman Page University of Nottingham James and Modernity RossPosnock. The Trial of'Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. xiv + 358 pp. Cloth $45.00 Paper $19.95 FOR ROSS POSNOCK, Henry James's major phase is not limited to the last three novels: there is a sequel, a "second major phase" (19071914 ) comprised of The American Scene, The Autobiography and the New York Edition prefaces. Tracing concerns he finds anticipated in earlier works and central to The Ambassadors (to which he devotes a chapter), Posnock argues that toward the end of his life James had become "intrigued by the unprecedented opportunities of modernity," by the possibilities for a "new scale of values and new 'importances' " which he saw erupting from within the democratic order. Posnock's project is revisionist. While he deconstructs "the politics of cultural response" that 224 BOOK REVIEWS have produced a canonical "domesticated Henry James"—an aesthetic idealist repelled by bourgeois vulgarity—he reconstructs a more radical, dialectically engaged James whose critical response to the intellectual, social and cultural issues of his time would seem to make him exemplary for ours. In Posnock's reading, the James of The American Scene intuits "modernity's dialectic of freedom and control" and fosters the "messy heterogeneity of pluralism." In his attentiveness to sensuous experience, in his nonrestrictive conception of identity and in his receptivity to a changing America, he shares affinities with Whitman and Dreiser. His "tentative, open stance" toward life brings him nearer to a true philosophical pragmatism than that which his psychically conflicted brother William ever achieved. This discursive (somewhat repetitive) but closely argued, intellectually provocative and ambitious book is centered on the Jamesian mode of curiosity as practiced by Henry and resisted by William. Passionate curiosity not only fueled Henry James's openness to experience but, more profoundly, it was the mode of being through which Henry preserved his pre-Oedipal, sexually diffuse energies and sublimated them into a richly flexible adult identity. Posnock contends that the stillenduring view of James as an ivory-tower aesthete unfit for life was originally promoted by the interlocking roles William and Henry played for one another: while Henry shielded himself from the invasive impact of his family through his capacity for vagueness and a self-diminishing empathy, William's impatience with this seeming passivity reflected a displacement of his own fears of self-dissolution under the more direct impact of his father and, later, in his speculations on the flux of apparently meaningless experience. Situating both James brothers within a field of philosophical, cultural...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 224-228
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.